Statistics suggest that more and more of us will likely reach the age of 90 than ever before.1 Needless to say, not only is living as long as possible a goal many of us want to strive for, we want to get there in the best shape possible. What’s the best way to help do that? Dr. Adam Stewart, a family physician, from Madoc, Ontario, and MoneyTalk columnist, says there’s no magic pill — your genes and your socio-economic position will likely have the greatest impact on your long-term health. He also notes that some studies in the U.S. suggest that longevity in certain populations may be actually decreasing because of increasing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.2 But he does emphasize that there are major health factors that everyone should and can control if they want to be healthier at any age.
Stop smoking tobacco
“The most bang for your buck is smoking cessation. It’s number one,” Stewart says. “Smoking makes everything worse. Cardio-vascular problems, stroke, cancer and chronic pain. Everything.” He also notes that while stopping smoking will have the greatest health benefits, it is probably the hardest thing to do and says people can consult with their doctor for support.
“People don’t have to be athletes. Whether it’s walking or just being active, the more the better, but every little bit helps,” says Stewart. Exercise improves mental health, bones, cardio-vascular health, hypertension, obesity and may also help prevent certain types of cancers.
Eating fewer processed foods and more fruits and vegetables, is better. There is no perfect nor magic diet. And no one is perfect. Dr. Stewart says the best diet will be one that is sustainable for you, personally.
Sleep and stress
Dr. Stewart says science is increasingly discovering links between sleep, stress and good health. Stress can create a snowball of poor health issues while a healthy sleep schedule can have positive effects.
Focus on mental health
There is also a growing awareness of importance of good mental health and how it impacts overall wellness, says Stewart. Stimulating the intellect and creating a strong social network can ward off depression and anxiety. A healthy mind can help deal with other health issues like smoking cessation, whereas depression and anxiety can complicate matters. “Mental health interrelates with everything. If you’re depressed and have a heart condition, your motivation is impaired for managing that problem,” Stewart says.
Alcohol in moderation
Excessive alcohol use can lead to multiple health problems, the obvious of which is addiction. Some general guidelines are two drinks a day for men and one for women, suggests Stewart.
Preventative Health Care
Early detection of certain diseases can improve your chances at a longer, healthier life, says Stewart. Pap smears, colon cancer screenings, and other tests can be very important. Patients should periodically check in with their doctors to help ensure they are up to date for all their preventative care options.
- “The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging Report on Health and Aging in Canada: Findings from Baseline Data Collection 2010-2015,” Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, May 22, 2018, accessed Oct. 1, 2019, www.clsa-elcv.ca/stay-informed/new-clsa/2018/canadian-longitudinal-study-aging-releases-first-report-health-and-aging.
Office of the Chief Actuary, “Mortality Projections for Social Security Programs in Canada,” Statistics Canada, April 2014, Accessed Oct. 1, 2019, http://www.osfi-bsif.gc.ca/Eng/oca-bac/as-ea/Pages/mpsspc.aspx#fnbtbl6
Laurent Martel and Janet Hagey, “A portrait of the population aged 85 and older in 2016 in Canada,” Statistics Canada, May 3, 2017, accessed Oct. 1, 2019, www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016004/98-200-x2016004-eng.cfm
“Comparison Age Pyramid,” Statistics Canada, April 3, 2019, accessed Oct. 1, 2019, www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/pyramid/pyramid.cfm?geo1=01&geo2=01&year=2016&type=2. ↩
- Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, Amelia Bertozzi-Villa, Rebecca W. Stubbs, et al, “US County-Level Trends in Mortality Rates for Major Causes of Death,” 1980-2014, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2016;316(22):2385–2401, accessed Oct. 4, 2019, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2592499
Olga Khazan, “Why Are So Many Americans Dying Young?” The Atlantic, Dec. 13, 2016, accessed Oct. 4, 2019, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/12/why-are-so-many-americans-dying-young/510455/ ↩